Michigan softball’s seniors walked into Sunday’s game with their families. Honored by the program and Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, the five players received flowers, hats and recognition from their teammates and coaches.
They led the team into player introductions before the game, and then they led the Wolverines offensively on the field. Scoring in the first inning on a sacrifice pop-fly by senior first baseman Alex Sobczak, senior second baseman Faith Canfield put the Wolverines on the board early.
“I think I’m just really relaxed and seeing the ball really well,” Canfield said. “I know in the beginning of the year we really wanted to come in and change a couple of things and just really make it what we wanted it to be, and I think things are headed in that direction.”
Following Sobczak, senior outfielder Natalie Peters – who hit an infield single in the first inning – and Canfield’s lead, the No. 22 Michigan softball team bested Penn State, 7-2, in the final matchup of the weekend. The win secured a weekend sweep and kept the Wolverines in position to compete for a Big Ten regular season championship.
“We’re all contributing, which is awesome,” Canfield said. “I had 19 people here this weekend, and I’m from California, so it’s a really far trek for everyone to make it out here, but all of my aunts and uncles made it out. So I think that’s the one out of everything, with my teammates. My family and my second family made it so fun.”
With family and teammates watching from the stands, the top of the lineup struck again in the third. After Canfield reached first on a single through the left field, Peters hit a line-drive RBI double to the left-center field gap, and Canfield reached home, bringing the score to 2-0.
Building on that lead in the fourth inning, freshman utility player Grace Chelemen, who pinch ran for senior designated player Mackenzie Nemitz, advanced home while the Nittany Lion catcher caught senior catcher Katie Alexander stealing second base. In addition, a home run hit to right-center field by sophomore utility player Lou Allan, who pinch hit for sophomore shortstop Natalia Rodriguez, increased the Wolverines’ lead to four. To finish the inning and tack onto the lead further, freshman outfielder Lexie Blair hit a two-run double to right field to bring Canfield and Peters to home plate and end the inning on a 6-0 score.
With a run-rule win on the line in the bottom of the fifth inning, Canfield hit a line-drive single with bases loaded to bring Nemitz home. But after Peters grounded out in the next at-bat, the 7-0 lead didn’t close out the game for Michigan.
“Kenzie was on third base late in the game and I said, ‘Kenzie, look. Just look. Don’t ever forget this.’ Like I don’t know if they’ll ever get to play here again,” Hutchins said. “There’s nothing like playing at Alumni Field with that packed house. I can’t even describe it. There’s no description.
“There’s a lot of ways to contribute, but (this senior class) has contributed in all of the ways because they contribute on the field. The seniors win us games, and obviously they contribute off the field.”
Already down seven runs due to those contributions Sunday, the Nittany Lions took advantage of the extra two innings, responding with a triple and a groundout single in the sixth inning to score their first run of the day. Though not earning the win, Penn State continued that offense in the seventh inning, scoring on a bases-loaded single to right field and shrinking the deficit to 7-2.
Despite blips in later innings, the Wolverine defense stayed tight throughout the game, and freshman right-hander Alex Storako pitched an almost-perfect four first innings with 10 strikeouts. Though strikeouts benefit Michigan, Hutchins has also emphasized the importance on “no-walkers” for the Wolverines defensively. With only one walk on the day before sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien stepped in for the seventh inning, Storako’s tight pitching guided Michigan to its dominance on defense.
“She pitched great,” Hutchins said. “Her first walk was, what, in the sixth? And she just pitched two days in a row two full games, and yesterday was five innings, but that hasn’t been her workload. … This was a big day for her to show us that she can help us, because we’re going to need her.”
Even without a shutout, strong defense and senior-led offensive spurts led the Wolverines Sunday, and the seniors couldn’t be happier.
“I don’t think any of one of us had it easy coming into the lineup. Like we all kind of had to fight our way,” Nemitz said. “It’s just really cool to see us all out there, all being announced in the starting lineup and just all contributing.”
As far as finishing her regular season career at Alumni Field and wearing the Michigan Alumni hat Hutchins gives every player on their senior day, Nemitz summed up the day in two words: “It’s weird.”